Institutt for sosialantropologi

‘It’s May Pole time’. Public spectacles and Creole people at the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua.


By: Silje Fjærestad-Tollefsen

Supervisor: Associate Professor Kathinka Frøystad

This thesis concerns the importance of festivals in nation-building. Through a six-month period of fieldwork in the city of Bluefields at the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, I explore how the Creole festival May Pole has been appropriated by the Nicaraguan state after the 1980s.

In brief, I argue that by appropriating, documenting, and promoting the May Pole festival, the state of Nicaragua had intensions to incorporate Creole people into Nicaraguan self-understanding, which at the same time would create a common national identity in the country. I suggest that nationalism in Nicaragua is gradually experiencing a change from being ethnic, towards sharing more traits with a multi-ethnic, civic form of nationalism.

At first glance, this might appear as an Indisputable and successful process, but my ethnographic material shows that the ambition is accepted to varying degrees among Creole people. While some accept the appropriation, a few are against it. The overall pattern shows that most people accept it, but they still refer to Creole celebrations as the ‘real’ May Pole. I argue that there is a concern over authenticity connected to the festival as Creole people feel that it’s their festival and the festival constitute inalienable possessions for people. I have suggested that this can be explained through forms of knowledge, as there is something inalienable and embodied inherent in the festival; one has to grow up with it to do the dances properly.

The embodied knowledge in May Pole differs from the cognitive knowledge appearing with the appropriation. This cognitive knowledge refers to both the knowledge the state introduced when they appropriated the May Pole festival in late 1980s, and a school-like, cognitive education the NGOs have implemented recent years.

May Pole is changing from an incorporating practice, oral and narrated, to additionally embracing an inscribed practice, formal and literate. This seems to be done by the NGOs in order to upgrade Creoles position within Nicaragua, due to the marginalized position of people of African descent in the country.